It's been four decades since Account Planning came into being.
It possibly was the most fundamental step in the evolution of advertising into communication tool for today's business. After 40 years, has the time come to evolve the planning function? More importantly, has the time come to even dump the tag?
We all know that Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt working in two different agencies in two different agencies invented the concept of account planning. Both of them were concerned with enormity of freedom given to servicing executives in writing a creative brief. Both also felt that the amount of data available was either not used properly, or was not used at all. Effectively then they created a new function which borrowed from Account Management and from Media Planning. The function got called "Account Planning" as a merged entity. If you haven't, then you must read the highly recommended Mary Baskin's article on www.apg.org.uk.
The business of communication is transforming
The Planner's role since then has evolved from being a researcher, data miner, insight generator and keeper of the brief to knowledge keeper, brainstorm facilitator, soothsayer, and futurist to being a thought leader.
Two other interesting developments have happened around the same time. One the Market Research industry has progressed leaps and bounds. Given the expansion of markets and increasing globalization need for actionable real time data has become a key ingredient in strategy formulation. Research techniques have become complex and the coming of internet have only added to complexity.
Two, media as a function is no longer a part of advertising agency. They are now stand alone experts. Media data too is a complex maze, and the media agencies work with research agencies directly, cutting the account planner completely from the process. To add to it, the media agencies are now investing in consumer insights to make media work sharper and with greater efficiency.
Planning's importance has overshadowed Servicing's role
Over the four decades since it came into existence, Account Planning has attracted best of minds all over the world. They have had a huge impact both on the agency brands and on the client brands. The planners have become role models and magnets for new talent. They have achieved what possibly both Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt might have wanted them to achieve. Be the alter ego to creative, be the ones who add relevance to creative process, and be the ones who make communication efficacious. I am not sure if the founding fathers wanted Account Planners to become the new icons, and Account Planning to become the magnet it has started to become.
In the process the strong role of servicing has been weakened significantly. There is a sharp definition of role of creative, and there is a clear importance of role of planning, this has left servicing in an almost unknown territory. There is enough chatter on how new talent that comes into industry is unwilling to join servicing.
Why is this apathy for Account Servicing roles growing?
Account Planning cannot live isolated from Account Servicing
I personally believe that the reasons why the function called Account Planning was invented do not exist any longer. Over a period of time Planners have used the power of knowledge to become powerful in the system; this has only harmed the profession.
There is enormous amount of data available, and frankly both media and research are doing a good job of synthesizing the data and feeding it into communication development process. Yes the Planner is expected to add the consumer dimension to the creative development process, but there is no reason to believe that the servicing cannot do the same. Yes the planner has to be the knowledge leader and a thought leader; there is no reason to believe that the servicing person cannot be one.
Most successful agency leaders are not Account Planners by training, but they would have made good planners if they wanted to
Account Planning needs to move on
It's time to burry Account Planning, and also burry Account Servicing. Both functions are past their expiry date. The future should belong to Brand Evangelists. The new function need to merge the rigour of Planning with the drive of Servicing. This new singular entity needs to be a curator that mashes relevant knowledge, plays the soothsayer, inspires the process and brings the magic back. The future of communication business is far more complex and layered then it ever has been. The old rules have stopped working; new ways need to be crafted.
Account Planning is existing form is in serious danger of losing relevance; it needs to transform into a true leadership function.
It needs to set the agenda for future, and run it too.
(My apologies for borrowing the title from Jeremy Bulmore's Inaugural Address at the first APG meeting in 1978. If you haven't read it, I insist that you should.)